35th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its postponed 35th meeting on 24 April 2013.  Olivier Bancoult, the Chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group, visiting the UK for the Judicial Review of the Chagos MPA, was invited to address the Group. He was accompanied by the new chair of the UK Chagos Support Association, Sabrina Jean.

In closed session members discussed the Foreign Secretary’s reply to the Chairman, in which Mr Hague had said he would be happy to meet the APPG later in the year once progress had been made with the review of policy on British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT). Members noted that it was now 4 months since Mr Hague had announced on 20 December 2012 that he would take stock of the policy towards the resettlement of BIOT. They questioned how it was possible for such a review to take so long given that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had been considering the options since an earlier review announced by the new Foreign Secretary in June 2010. Members wanted to discuss their proposals with the Foreign Secretary before decisions were taken.
The Group discussed the 21 Parliamentary Questions and Questions on Chagos tabled since the last meeting on 13 February. They felt that, although largely repeating the same positions, the tone was more positive. They were encouraged by the reply of Mr Simmonds to a PQ on 25 March from Andrew George MP in which the Minister had stated that “Ministers and officials continue to engage with Chagossians as part of our review of policy. This will include the costs, benefits and other consequences of any kind of resettlement”. Members felt that Baroness Warsi’s replies to Lord Avebury’s letters, regarding diplomatic solutions concerning Mauritius and the Chagossians, rather than litigation, were not positive.
Members took note of Dominic Kennedy’s interview with Henry Bellingham MP, the previous Foreign Office Minister in charge of BIOT and now a member of the Group, in The Times of 29 March. They were pleased to see his suggestions for moving towards a limited resettlement. These included a private sector led initiative, an eco-tourism project, a centre on the Outer Islands for research, enhanced mooring facilities, a jetty, an eco hotel and a visitors centre on Diego Garcia for Chagossians. Members agreed with Mr Bellingham that it would give the Chagossians “a feeling that Britain and America were atoning for the sins of the past”.
The scientific review (Oct 2012) by Dr Paul Kench of the 2002 Feasibility Study was discussed. Members agreed that his report demonstrated that the Feasibility Study, on which the FCO had always based their policy against resettlement, had been seriously flawed, contained contradictory evidence and was lacking in transparency and tested scientific data, resulting in incorrect conclusions. The Group reiterated their wish for a new scientifically rigorous and up to date study.
The Coordinator briefed the Group on the current Judicial Review of the MPA (15-24 April). The Group took note of the judges’ ruling concerning the inadmissibility of wikileak evidence (which had been allowed in an earlier judgment by a High Court judge) on the grounds that  Article 24 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations precluded the use of communications belonging to diplomatic missions. Members wondered if  FCO Ministers had properly considered the wider implications of such a ruling before it was raised by the FCO legal team in court.
The next meeting will be on 5 June 2013.

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